In what lenders say is the largest community bank collaboration ever, 68 midwestern banks have teamed up to fund a $49.5 million syndicated loan financing the purchase of a Wisconsin resort hotel.

Tama State Bank, a $63 million-asset institution in Marshalltown, Iowa, took $700,000 of the loan, which was arranged by Bankers' Bank of Madison, Wis. Participating in large loans has helped reduce Tama's dependence on agriculture lending from about 85% of its portfolio in the 1980s to 8% today, said William J. Beohm, its president and chief executive officer.

"I don't know if there will be another $50 million loan available to participate in soon, but I'm sure we'll be able to participate in several other multimillion-dollar ones," he said. "Without them, we wouldn't have a chance at this business."

Madison-based Great Lakes Companies Inc. approached Bankers' Bank in mid-August about financing the purchase of the 308-room Black Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells, a popular destination for vacationers from Milwaukee, Chicago, and other Midwest cities.

Even a community bank in Black Wolf's hometown, Bank of Wisconsin Dells, said it would not have had a shot at the business alone.

Gary Gilliland, president and chief operating officer of the $195 million-asset bank, knew far in advance that the resort's owners - a well-known local family - were planning to sell Black Wolf. The Waterman family, which owns other tourist attractions in Wisconsin Dells, held other accounts at his bank, but Mr. Gilliland knew his bank could not finance a buyer of Black Wolf by itself.

"Knowing the strength of this resort, we obviously wanted to be involved," he said. "We also want to invest in our local community. A project like this would have been too big for us to handle on our own, but we obviously wanted to buy a piece of it."

Mr. Gilliland said his bank was among the largest participants in the loan but would not give further information.

Great Lakes, headed by chairman Bruce Neviaser and chief executive officer Bob Stoehr, had worked with Bankers' Bank on a hotel loan of $2.8 million almost five years earlier. Mr. Neviaser said he chose to work with the bank again partly because of its speed in arranging the previous deal.

"When the opportunity to buy the Black Wolf came up, we already had the equity capital in hand," Mr. Neviaser said. "The key was getting the right-size loan done with the right terms quickly. … The timing of the transaction was critical to the seller and, therefore, to us as well."

Mr. Stoehr said Bankers' Bank outlined an offer within a few weeks of the initial discussions and stuck to its terms. On other projects, in which Great Lakes has worked with large banks, it often has spent six or eight months climbing through layers of management and committees and renegotiating terms, he said.

"At Bankers' Bank you deal with one person instead of multiple committees," Mr. Stoehr said. "With large banks, you first go to the local office. Then they send the package on to their regional office. And with a large loan, it also has to get approval from their national office. Each time it moves up, they want to change the deal a little."

After both sides agreed on terms, Bankers' Bank went to work finding the money.

It sent out a bulk fax in the wee hours of Sept. 17 to its 350 correspondent members notifying them of the loan participation opportunity. The first community banks called shortly after 6 a.m. to orally commit funds. By late afternoon, Bankers' Bank had more than enough money lined up.

"Our ability to do a project this large is a tribute to the community banks we work with," said Dave Dahlin, the Bankers' Bank first vice president who negotiated the deal.

The deal closed Nov. 8, but Mr. Dahlin would not disclose the terms or interest rate. He said virtually all the banks offered loan amounts equal to their legal lending limit, which is 20% of their capital base. He declined to name the largest and smallest contributors but said the biggest piece was $4 million and the smallest $150,000. Bankers' Bank plans to hold and service the loan for two years and then sell it into the secondary market.

Despite needing 68 banks to fund the loan, Mr. Dahlin said the process never became cumbersome.

"We have a track record of doing this, and we have the back-room efficiencies to make it transparent to the borrower," he said. "Whether it's a few banks or 68 banks, the process remains the same, and we have the capacity to handle it."

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